Good afternoon, 12s. Here's a look at what's out there today — Thursday, November 30 — about your Seattle Seahawks.
Eric Williams of FOX Sports breaks down why Seahawks rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon is talking the talk; and walking the walk.
Through the first 11 games of his NFL career, Seahawks rookie cornerback and 2023 first-round selection Devon Witherspoon has showcased his versatility and playmaking, becoming an early Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate while shuffling from the boundary to nickel corner. Eric Williams of Fox Sports breaks down the uncanny physicality and competitive edge the Illinois alum possesses, as the 6-foot, 185-pound rookie continues to go "against the odds."
Seattle knew they were drafting a fiery competitor when they selected Witherspoon fifth overall in April's draft. The 2022 Big Ten Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award winner finished his final college season by allowing the lowest completion percentage in the nation (33.8%), and allowing a receiver to gain over 35 yards just once that season. Currently, Witherspoon ranks No. 4 league-wide in passes defensed with 14, while holding the third-highest grade of all rookies through Week 12 per Pro Football Focus.
But Witherspoon hasn't emerged as one of the best rookies in the class just because of his coverage skills. Currently, Witherspoon ranks fifth on Seattle's defense in tackles (57), adding in four tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Whether pursuing the ball carrier coming downhill to the flats, or blitzing the quarterback - Witherspoon takes pride in hitting, and hitting hard. Ignoring his undersized frame, Witherspoon has established the willingness to use his body with reckless abandon for the greater good of the team. Witherspoon sat down with FOX Sports to discuss his style of play.
"I'm undersized," said Witherspoon. "But I just want people to know I'm going to be physical. I'm not going to shy away from contact. There's a stigma that comes with you not being the typical type of football player — especially body-type-wise. I'm going against the odds. But that's not the case with me. I'm a physical guy and I want to tackle, so I try to put that on tape."
Williams reached out to Illinois defensive coordinator Aaron Henry for his thoughts on Witherspoon's early development, as the Fighting Illini coach boasts his nickname for the first-year star's abilities - "the mindset and the mouthpiece."
"If you gave his trash talking a grade," said Henry. "It would be an A-plus. A 10 out of 10. So that just screamed confidence. Just the way he was wired in terms of his confidence, it was unwavering, like a gnat that wouldn't go away, that was always pestering you. He wouldn't stop talking. That's just who he is. That is his personality. That is how the Good Lord wired him. He talks 24/7 — on the field, off the field. If Devon isn't talking, something is extremely wrong."
Henry digs deep into Witherspoon's journey, as the Pensacola, Florida native developed from a scrawny (155lbs) freshman to gaining 25-pounds and making Fighting Illini history.
"I really believe the Good Lord just creates people who are a little bit different," said Henry. "I saw that the first day I got to campus. There was no denying that. He played so hard. He was not ducking contact. When I first got there, because he was so small in stature, I was trying to teach him how to cut tackle, just for himself. Like, 'Dude, you're in the Big Ten, small in stature with a lot of big backs. You can't hit people high your whole career and think you're going to last.' But he generates so much power and physicality because he's so fast, and his ability to put his foot in the ground and explode from it is so uncanny for a guy of that stature. You have guys who run fast but may not hit hard. But he's a guy who can do both. He plays pissed off and he plays fearless. That's his mentality."
Witherspoon's physical style of play and competitive nature started on the basketball court, where he shined at Pine Forest High. It wasn't until his junior year that Witherspoon joined the football team, earning the Pensacola News Journal Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. Henry commented on how Witherspoon's basketball background has helped him succeed on the football field.
"You're covering a guy the entire game [in basketball]," said Henry. "You could switch off and cover another guy. So it's just like playing defensive back. If you're playing man-to-man, you have to have good eyes and you have to have good discipline. And when the ball goes up, you have to go get it at its highest point. So a lot of those qualities translate. It was literally a perfect match, Devon being a basketball player with hoop dreams, with an aggressive style of play. Playing football, it just transitioned so well. And I think once he started to have the success that he had on the field, it was like, 'This could probably take me somewhere.'"
Witherspoon toughness, athleticism, ball skills and high football IQ made him the first Fighting Illini defensive back taken in the first round since Vontae Davis in 2009. Through 12 weeks, he ranks top-five in passes defensed, and holds the eighth-highest coverage success rate (61.5%) of all corners league-wide. As Seattle continues to claw for a playoff spot, Witherspoon continues to defy the odds for his size, becoming one of the league's most-feared young players.
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